Disability is no barrier to enjoying Scouting. Recently, Keegan Baillie-Martin, was diagnosed with a rare and chronic illness, but that didn’t stop his dreams of attending the World Scout Jamboree.
Four years ago, when I was a Scout, I heard some great stories about the 23th World Scout Jamboree (WSJ) in Japan. I decided I wanted attend the next WSJ. Planning and fundraising began, and I registered and was accepted as an Australian Contingent member for the 24th World Scout Jamboree, in West Virginia, USA.
My name is Keegan Baillie-Martin, I am a Venturer at 1st Caroline Springs and I turned 16 years old the week before the Australian Contingent departed for the WSJ in USA.
In February this year, my world changed forever. I was diagnosed with CIDP (Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy). I have a rare chronic illness – an autoimmune disease that commonly occurs in people who are eligible for the aged pension. My antibodies eat away the myelin sheath that protect my nerves, attacking the peripheral nerves, leaving my arms and legs weak with numbing feelings, pain and whole body fatigue. Each month I receive IVIg treatment at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne (RCH).
With an undiagnosed chronic illness, I earned my Promise Challenge, Grey Wolf and Australian Scout Medallion.
A lot of preparation was required to get me to WSJ. I saw a minimum of 6 teams at the Royal Children’s Hospital and used medical services in my local community. The amazing orthotist at the hospital designed me an ankle-foot orthosis brace that enables me to walk and participate in adventurous activities, especially water activities as it was made thinner with removable straps. My home Scout Group, 1st Caroline Springs, rallied around me to ensure I was ready for WSJ. Their support during tests, diagnosing and treating my chronic illness made Scouting and my everyday life much easier to navigate.
The Australian Contingent were supportive from the first meeting until I arrived back on Aussie soil. Initially I met with Rod Byrnes and Diana Swift. We discussed what I needed to achieve my WSJ goals and how that would be delivered. I took my brace, walking stick and 11 medications in an extra medical bag. Rod and his team organised for a wheelchair to be available at all 7 airports I went through, and Leaders, such as Annie Asquith, and Venturers to push the wheelchair and assist with my contingent bag and backpacks. They also arranged for pre-purchase of a wheelchair from Walmart in Washington DC that was waiting for me at our first stop, the American University. My roommate, Aaron from Victoria, was an amazing help, as was Patrol 1 and all of Troop 7!
I was excited when the Australian Contingent arrived at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. The contingent brought my wheelchair to the site, and arranged for my Troop to be close to activities, transport and amenities. Emma Watson was my Troop Leader and my line leader. She played an important role in organising transport and making sure I was feeling ok and looking after myself. The leaders from Troop 7, along with welfare leaders, Diana Swift, Mitch Kraan and Wendy Byrnes were a constant support. Troop 7 youth members assisted and adjusted where I needed support. Some of the Venturer Scouts from my Troop discovered a lot about people with disabilities from me. A few even tried on my brace (referred to as my leg). It was entertaining watching them try to walk in my shoes!
The disability and services on site at Jamboree were great. I was able to takes busses and UTV’s (off road buggy) to activities, I used my wheelchair when needed and took my walking stick. The disabled shower in Sub Camp B even had hot showers! I was also looked after by activity staff, and supported when lining up for activities so I didn’t have to stand or wait for long periods of time.
So here it is… I have a disability, but sometimes it doesn’t look like I have a disability. I am an ambulatory wheelchair/scooter user. I pushed myself, believed in myself and did everything on my Jamboree ‘wish list’. I utilised and appreciated the supports that were put in place by the Australian Contingent and offered by the three hosting countries (USA, Canada and Mexico). I didn’t do everything the same as I would have before my condition degenerated.
BUT… I successfully rock climbed, abseiled, crossed the boulder wall, jumped the ‘leap of faith’, fired a cannon, shot an old fashioned muscat, crossed about 7 small zip lines at the Canopy, went white water rafting and crossed the big zip line – 1km long and travelled over 90km per hour. I did it all my own way as I could only do things once!
Many friends, old and new, along with Leaders, commented on the resilience I demonstrated. At times my body hurt, I was medicated for pain relief when needed AND I even managed to stay out of the hospital. I adapted, and so did my Troop. Scouts looked after Scouts – after falling multiples times on the CONSOL Energy Bridge walking the short distance to the opening ceremony (it actually sways), two Scottish Scouts CARRIED me to the end of the bridge to my waiting wheelchair! They held me under their arms and took me to the other side, walking amongst thousands of people. Kilted Scouts who were no doubt trained with strength from Highlander traditional games (which we saw at Mount Jack).
I couldn’t have achieved this amazing and life changing experience without all of my support teams at the Royal Children’s Hospital, my 1st Caroline Springs family, Venturers Victoria, Australian World Scout Jamboree Contingent, and most importantly my mum, dad and brother, Isaac.
Extra special thanks to Rod Byrnes who could have said no, and Emma Watson and Troop 7 leaders for getting me through.
If you have a disability, are quirky or challenged; just have a go! Make sure you communicate and have plans to achieve your dreams. If you’re a parent of a Scout with a disability, I want you to know Scouts in Australia and Scouters around the world will do everything in their power to make dreams come true.
My name is Keegan Baillie-Martin, and I am the ‘no scout left behind’!